Kelowna set to open first winter emergency shelter | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna set to open first winter emergency shelter

FILE PHOTO - There were about 50 homeless people camping overnight in this ball diamond on Recreation Avenue in Kelowna's North End, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. The first winter emergency shelter in Kelowna was announced, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, and to get some of the campers inside.
December 10, 2019 - 2:30 PM

All it took was one phone call from a concerned Kelowna resident to B.C. Housing to launch the plans for the city’s first and only emergency shelter for homeless people this winter.

The plan came together within the last two weeks to renovate part of the former Kelowna Food Bank building owned by the Metro Community Church at 1265 Ellis St. to create the Welcome Inn so homeless people can start sheltering there by late December or early January.

“Jason Siebenga was the person who stepped up first,” Ann Howard, director for B.C. Housing’s Interior region, told today, Dec. 10. “He called me and he said ‘Ann, I’m so troubled about this. I was walking outside last night and I thought, there’s no possible way I can live out here overnight. I don’t know how those people can do it at Recreation Park’. He said, ‘I have some time right now. I’m in between things and I think I have some skills I can offer and I want to let you know I’m here.’”

Later that day, Tara Tschritter called with a similar offer. Howard put the two of them together and the wheels were in gear so that within two weeks of the homeless camp being set up on Recreation Avenue, today’s announcement could be made.

The Metro church put off plans to begin construction on that facility this winter so it could offer the space.

This area of the former Kelowna Food Bank is being renovated for an emergency winter shelter for the homeless.
This area of the former Kelowna Food Bank is being renovated for an emergency winter shelter for the homeless.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / B.C. Housing

“The (Metro) board made a decision that the need was so pressing they decided to make it available,” Howard said.

It’s not just the renovations that are delaying the opening.

After Siebenga and Tschritter came forward, Howard tried to find operators for the shelter but no one had the capacity to jump in. So, with the support of Turning Points Collaborative Society in Vernon, staff and volunteers will be trained to get at least 20 beds open to start with.

“They (Siebenga and Tschritter ) believe they can mobilize like-minded people to come with them to provide services,” Howard said. “They know a whole network of people who really care about people who are suffering, people who are willing to step up and say, ‘we can’t do it all but we can be part of the solution.’”

The goal is to expand the Welcome Inn to 40 beds to operate 24 hours a day once enough trained staff and volunteers are available. The Metro’s warming centre is right behind the shelter to provide a warm space during the day.

People staying in the shelter will have access to daily meals, storage for their belongings, washrooms and a common room. There will be at least two staff members on-site at all times.

It’s slated to close at the end of March.

Fuller Place, with 40 “bridge” shelter spaces is slated to open next week.

It’s estimated 50 or more homeless people are living in tents in Kelowna.

Siebenga is the chairman of Metro Community Church while Tschritter is president of Little House Contracting and a former executive director of Inn From the Cold that offered emergency shelter space until it closed earlier this year.

“Like many of you, I have watched this crisis unfold from the warmth and comfort of my home over the past few months,” Tschritter said in a news release. “With funding and a great location, we are confident that volunteers and shelter staff will emerge from our compassionate community!”

They are looking for volunteers to help out. If you are interested, you can contact them through the Welcome Inn website here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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